When Wonder Woman was released, it was hailed as an audience favorite, and Gal Gadot’s performance as Diana Prince was widely praised. Christian reviewers noted the Christ-like character of Diana’s selflessness and specifically noted that in one critical scene, her method of defeating the main villain was similar to depictions of Jesus on the cross.[1] Others enthusiastically welcomed Diana as an illustration of the Hebrew word ezer, or helper, an ideal for the Christian woman to strive for.[2] Still others rightly criticized Diana for her sexual ethics, or lack thereof, in having premarital sex with her love interest.[3] Here, I approach the film from a different angle. The character of Diana is flawed, but within the framework of the story, she is not presented as being perfect, and we should not look for such perfection outside Christ. The storyline readily suggests basic Christian truths, however, and in Diana, we see an inspiring example of how we as Christian apologists should approach our neighbors and the world.

“Not About Deserve”: God’s Unmerited Grace and the Redemption of Creation

Throughout the film, much emphasis is placed on the word “deserve.” When Diana leaves the island of Themyscira to save the world from the horrors of World War I (at least, so she thinks), her mother, who kept her sheltered there, warns her that “the world of men does not deserve [her].”[4] The word crops up again in a later conversation with her friend and eventual paramour, Steve Trevor. Although he tries to tell her otherwise, Diana insists that by killing the god of war, Ares, she can end World War I. After she kills the man she believes to be Ares — an evil character who would have committed more destruction had he been given the opportunity, despite not being Ares himself — the war continues, and Steve begs her to help him fight other battles. Diana balks, confused as to why the soldiers are still killing each other. Steve replies, “Maybe it’s them. Maybe people aren’t always good, Ares or no Ares. Maybe it’s who they are.”[5] Diana concludes that her mother was right, that the world of men does not deserve her help. Steve then delivers the film’s most insightful lines: “It’s not about deserve! Maybe we don’t. But it’s not about that, it’s about what you believe. . . . You don’t think I get it, after what I’ve seen out there? You don’t think I wish I could tell you there’s one bad guy to blame? It’s not. We’re all to blame.”[6] When Diana responds that she is not to blame, Steve says simply, “But maybe I am.”[7]

When he tells Diana that “maybe it’s who [we] are,” Steve recognizes corrupted human nature, and we see a glimmer of the truth that we are all sinners desperately in need of God’s grace because of the Fall of Adam and Eve.[8] Steve is correct that there is “not one bad guy to blame”: by saying he is to blame, he indicates each person is at fault, for as Scripture tells us, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”[9] Similarly, each of us is to blame for the sin in this world; we make mistakes and sin, every day, in thought, word, and deed, and we are each personally responsible for the broken state of our world. Just as the world of men did not deserve Diana’s help, we do not deserve God’s unmerited grace in the sacrifice Jesus made for us. We deserve every thorn in the brow, every lash of the whip, and every pounding of the nail that Jesus received when He was tortured and crucified, bearing our sin and punishment to atone for our crimes before God so that we could experience eternal life with Him.

In contrast to Diana’s mother, who did not want to give her only daughter to a world desperately in need of her help, how grateful we should be that we have a God who gave His only Son willingly! We see parallels in Diana and Christ in that through a specific individual, the world is saved. Further, we may note that Jesus, in His earthly life, was located in a specific culture: that of the Jews in the first century. He is, as it were, “culture-specific” because He lived as a particular man in a particular family in a particular part of the world, and each believer must assent to His culturally specific Incarnation: in Him, divine truth is “culturally embedded.”[10] As C.S. Lewis noted, Jesus embodies the “dying god” story as expressed in other mythologies, but the difference is that in Christ, the story concretizes in a specific man, a specific time, and a specific culture: “It is like watching something come gradually into focus; first it hangs on the clouds of myth and ritual, vast and vague, then it condenses, grows hard and in a sense small, as a historical event in first century Palestine.”[11] Indeed, Jesus represents the ultimate “narrowing” of the specific way in which God worked in the Old Testament: first, by choosing the Jewish people through whom He would work salvation; then, by the “purg[ing]” and “prov[ing]” of that group over and over again, until “at last it comes down a little point, small as the point of a spear — a Jewish girl at her prayers.”[12] Thus, we see that God’s decision to redeem all His creation is accomplished in a highly specific and personal way: through the Incarnation of His Son, Jesus Christ, Who ministered to those around Him in a culturally sensitive manner, such as when He approached the Samaritan woman differently than He approached Nicodemus.[13] Our duty as Christians is therefore “to serve the present generation by speaking within and to the cultural context in which God has placed us.”[14]

One significant way we can speak within and to our culture is by engaging with the artistic expressions of our day. As a result of the present-day church’s tendency to overlook a theological tenet the early church father Irenaeus emphasized — that Christ came to redeem not only humanity, but the entirety of God’s creation, including the natural world — we can be too quick to condemn wholesale works of art not specifically labeled “Christian.”[15] If we take seriously the idea that Christ is redeeming every piece of God’s good creation as we look forward to the New Heaven and the New Earth, then we must also take seriously the idea that He has redeemed art and culture — and this not only in a general sense, but in a specific sense. That is, that because of this redemption, His truth may be found in specific works of art. We may then use this truth to illuminate to our non-believing neighbors fundamental bases of Christianity, just as we are now doing as we analyze the echoes of Diana as a Christ-figure. Of course, not every artistic expression is somehow completely redeemed, or even redeemed in any degree, depending on the work, but we should not underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit in His influence on our culture. Here, evangelicals should particularly take note, for we are far more likely than our Catholic counterparts to view culture with suspicion: whereas evangelicals focus on the sinfulness of the world and assume God’s absence from the arts, Catholics emphasize His presence and the “sacramentality of the world.”[16]

Radical Love Through Evangelism and Apologetics

After her disastrous exchange with Steve, Diana still refuses to help to him, and as a result, Steve embarks on a suicide mission to destroy weapons that could kill thousands more. The real Ares finds Diana, and during their showdown, he taunts her and suggests that she kill the disfigured German war criminal, Dr. Poison. He tries to persuade Diana that all humans are evil and should die, telling her, “You know that she deserves it; they all do.”[17] After remembering Steve’s last words to her — that he loved her — and his sacrifice, Diana refuses to believe Ares, saying, “You’re wrong about them. They’re everything you say, but so much more . . . It’s not about deserve. It’s about what you believe. And I believe in love.”[18]

Here, we see the Christian virtues of sacrifice and mercy, which are intimately connected with God’s love. Steve’s sacrifice also recalls Jesus’s own sacrifice and His words, “Greater love has no one than this, that a man should lay down his life for his friends.”[19] Although Diana’s statement of “believing in love” is glib in that it tends toward the modern error of emphasizing God’s love to the exclusion of His just wrath against sin, it nevertheless points to the radical forgiveness we experience because of God’s love: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”[20] The word “radical” has its origin in the Latin word radix, or root, and indeed, God’s love is so deep, comprehensive, and cleansing that upon accepting Christ, we are not admitted to God’s house as only servants or even guests, but instead welcomed as His sons and daughters.[21] Jesus spares us through His sacrifice and mercy, as Diana spared Dr. Poison, but He does what Diana cannot do for the disfigured doctor. Sin is rebellion from God and manifests itself through disobedience to Him as we pridefully and deceitfully attempt to make ourselves the centers of our selfish worlds. Such refusal to recognize God as Lord, King, and Creator of all — of our lives, of the universe, of eternity — results in separation from Him and His cosmic truth. Sin deforms us in every way possible — physically, mentally, and spiritually — because it is acting in defiance toward the objective moral facts and laws of God’s fundamental reality in creation as they are embodied in His commandments. This mutiny dehumanizes us, for we cannot flourish as creatures made in the imago Dei, or the image of God, without Him. Jesus, however, heals us of sin’s destructiveness, restores our humanity, and makes us part of His eternal family. This, for those who, as Genesis explains, threw away perfect union with God at the dawn of the world in exchange for revolt against our Creator and Father and the ruin of His good creation. What radical forgiveness and mercy, indeed!

There is an echo of such mercy in Diana’s refusal to kill Dr. Poison, despite her chilling war crimes, which points to the forgiveness we as believers are called upon to practice. Just as God forgave us, so we are to forgive our neighbor’s sins against us.[22] In Jesus’s parable of the servant, the servant is forgiven by his master, but refuses to forgive his fellow servants and is condemned by his master. When Peter asks Jesus how many times the disciples had to forgive others, He replies, “Seventy-seven times.”[23] If God could forgive us for the sin we have committed against Him, so much more should we forgive one another and thereby extend God’s goodness to those around us.

One of the primary ways we show our love for our non-believing neighbors is in carrying the Gospel to them through apologetics. We as Christians have a duty to love God with all our hearts, minds, and strengths, but further, we have a duty to share the Gospel — literally, “the good news,” derived from the Greek euangelion — with our non-believing neighbors. In the Great Commission, Jesus commanded His disciples, and through them, all believers, to spread the Good News of His Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”[24] What unmerited grace we have received in God’s forgiveness and eternal life through Christ — how could we not wish to tell our non-believing neighbors about God’s love and His eternal gifts so that they may also share in them? As Jesus said, who would light a lamp and it under a basket?[25] This spreading of the Gospel is called “apologetics” because its Greek root word, apologia, means defense.[26] In the Christian context, it refers specifically to giving a defense and reasons for one’s belief in Jesus Christ as the crucified Son of God, Who gave His life to atone for man’s sins and to offer salvation to all those who accept Him as their personal Savior.[27]

The fact that our culture has turned its back on Christianity is even more reason for us to engage. Jesus noted, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”[28] How timely are these words even two thousand years later, and how much more eagerly should we volunteer to be the laborers! We must seek to be like Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, when he is at the Areopagus and notices among the statues of the Greek gods one marked, “To the unknown god,” which he uses as a springboard to explain that the Christian God is the one true God.[29] Here, we have a Scriptural model of using a half-truth embedded in contemporary culture to share the full truth as embodied in Christ. Similarly, we should not rely only on producing purely philosophical proofs for the existence of God. We can and should interact with today’s cultural expressions, such as books, films, television shows, music, and theatre in our quest to use the fragments of truth they contain to show Christ to the world.

Final Section: Conclusion

Diana destroys Ares and concludes the film by noting,

 

“I used to want to save the world. . . . But then I glimpsed the darkness that lives within their light and learned that inside every one of them, there will always be both — a choice each must make for themselves, something no hero can defeat. And now I know: that only love can truly save the world. So I stay. I fight and I give, for the world I know can be. This is my mission now. Forever.”[30]

 

Diana’s words ring true: as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn noted, “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”[31] Because we are made in the imago Dei, we are capable of goodness, but as a result of the Fall, we are corrupted by sin. All our righteous works and acts without Jesus are as filthy rags, for we cannot earn our way into Heaven with our supposedly good works, and we cannot be “good” without Him. The standard for admission to Heaven is not whether an individual is a “good person.” As C.S. Lewis notes, our “niceness” arising from our natural personalities is simply not sufficient for, or relevant to, the redemption and salvation of our souls.[32] To paraphrase Lewis, in determining whether we spend eternity in Heaven or Hell, it is not whether we are nice people that matters: it is whether we are new men and women through belief in Christ. Without belief in Christ and His atoning work on the cross, we are condemned to the wages of sin: eternal spiritual and physical death, and separation from God in Hell. The only standard that counts is how bad we are compared to Christ, not how good we are compared to other people, and whether we have repented of our sins and believed in Him as our personal Savior. No hero can make such a decision for us; it is each individual’s personal responsibility to choose to submit his life to Jesus. As Steve says, “It’s about what you believe,” and indeed, Jesus teaches that “no one comes to the Father except through me”: all we have to do to receive this beautiful gift is to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that He died for each of us and our individual sins.[33] Our subsequent willing obedience to His moral commandments shows our love for Him, for as James reminds us, faith without works is dead, and our faith is shown by our works.[34] Paul explains that Christ makes each of us into a “new creation,” and we are then freed from the oppressive sin that enslaves us to our passions and desires.[35] Jesus redeems and transforms us to be like Him, and when we lose our lives to obedience and suffering in imitation of His example, we discover the paradox He discusses in the Gospel: he who loses his life will find it. As Jesus leads us on the road of self-sacrifice, we find our true selves in Him, for He enables us to pursue the unique callings God places upon our lives.

One significant difference between Diana and Christ is that the individuals in the film’s universe need not believe in Diana or even know of her existence to benefit from her actions, for she saves only their earthly lives. In contrast, Jesus saves our souls, and simply being aware of His existence as the Son of God is insufficient to receive salvation and eternal life. As James notes, even the demons believe in God, but this kind of belief is mere knowledge does not translate into a faith that gives salvation.[36] A salvation-giving faith requires an element beyond mere intellectual acceptance of Jesus as the Son of God. It is a faith where I as an individual trust in and have a personal relationship with Jesus as my Savior who died on the cross for my own unique sins against God, accompanied by my obedience to His commandments. Jesus is not merely a fact to be assented to or a math equation to be solved — He is our Lord who bled and died on the cross and who desires a personal relationship with each individual. It is through this relationship that Jesus’s sacrifice accomplishes an individual’s salvation, for in it, we each confess our crimes against God and personally accept the gifts Jesus offers us: to atone for our sins through His death and resurrection and to restore our relationship, and eternal life, with God.

Despite this difference between Diana and Christ and the Christian God’s absence from the film, Diana is right that only love can save the world — indeed, it already has. God’s love has rescued creation through the victory over sin and death Jesus won on the cross. Hearing these fragments of truth in films such as Wonder Woman reminds us of the fundamental Christian truth that we were not made for this broken, sinful world, and because nonbelievers do not have Christ in their lives, they will continue to have Christ-sized caverns in their souls. Thus, they will continue to ask questions only Jesus can answer. Taking our modern culture’s expressions seriously allows us as apologists to see what questions are being asked and how they are framed. If we do not pay attention to the specific issues troubling our non-believing neighbors, we will never hear their questions or truly address their concerns; we would be like the most tragic ships passing in the night. Instead, we must meet our neighbor’s needs and answer their questions as they ask them, not the questions we think they should ask. Engaging with cultural expressions, such as film, as we have done here with Wonder Woman, also allows us to present the truth in a fuller manner than dry rational propositions would, for art allows us to address the whole person, not solely the intellect, and to express the meaning of our faith as well as the reasons behind it. If we hope for nonbelievers to come to faith, we must first seek to show them the joy we have in Christ.

The final lines of the film should be a challenge to every Christian. If Diana, the flawed demigoddess of the D.C. universe, is willing to risk herself for humanity, even without the promise of a Savior, we as apologists should be all the more willing to fight and to give everything for the world we know could be when it is united under Christ, to bring every thought and deed captive to Christ, and to preach the Gospel to every nation and every person, so that they can experience the beautiful gift of eternal life we have been given in Jesus. And yes, as we sort through our artistic expressions and navigate the lies of Satan and the ugliness of fallen human nature, cultural apologetics can be messy — but in this broken world, what isn’t? Christ has promised to give us a New Heaven and New Earth that will come not from the replacement, but from the sanctification and renewal, of this very world. The gauntlet has been thrown down. If Jesus is willing to fight for this world, so must we. Will we leave our culture to the world’s destructive devices, or will we stay and fight for our mission to spread the Good News through every means possible — now and forever?



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Citation Information

Megan Joy Rials, “Diana Prince, Apologist? Salvation and the Great Commission in Wonder Woman,” An Unexpected Journal: Superheroes 4, no. 2. (Summer 2021), 2-32.

Direct Link: http://anunexpectedjournal.com/diana-prince-apologist-the-great-commission-and-salvation-in-wonder-woman/


Endnotes

[1] Suzanne Morse, “Wonder Woman: Christian allegory?” Medium, last modified November 18, 2017, accessed January 5, 2021, https://sznnmorse.medium.com/wonder-woman-christian-allegory-e8be413f2ee9.

[2] Marilette Sanchez, “Wonder Woman and Biblical Womanhood,” Think Christian, last modified September 18, 2017, accessed January 5, 2021, https://thinkchristian.net/wonder-woman-and-biblical-womanhood.

[3] Amy Mantravadi, “Is Wonder Woman a Good Example of Biblical Womanhood?”, Amy Mantravadi, last modified July 6, 2017, accessed January 5, 2021, https://amymantravadi.com/2017/07/06/is-wonder-woman-a-good-example-of-biblical-womanhood/.

[4] Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins (DC Films, 2017), Blu-ray (Warner Bros. Pictures, 2017).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.; Romans 3:23.

[10] Stanley J. Grenz, “What Does Hollywood Have to Do With Wheaton? The Place of (Pop) Culture in Theological Reflection,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 43, no. 2 (June 2000), 308.

[11] C.S. Lewis, “Is Theology Poetry?”, in The Weight of Glory (New York: HarperOne, 1949), 129.

[12] C.S. Lewis, “The Grand Miracle,” in God in the Dock, ed. Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1970), 84.

[13] Grenz, “Wheaton,” 308.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Bengt Hägglund, History of Theology, 4th rev. ed., trans. Gene J. Lund (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2007), 48-49.

[16] Robert K. Johnston, Reel Spirituality: Theology and Film in Dialogue, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), 104-105.

[17] Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Matt. 15:13.

[20] John 3:16.

[21] “Radix,” Merriam Webster, accessed January 5, 2021, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/radix.

[22] Matt. 6:14-15.

[23] Matt. 18:21-22.

[24] Matt. 28:19-20.

[25] Matt. 5:15 (ESV).

[26] “Apologetics,” Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States, accessed January 5, 2021, https://suscopts.org/resources/literature/546/apologetics/.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Matt. 9:37.

[29] Acts 17:22-31.

[30] Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins.

[31] Cynthia Haven, “Happy Birthday, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn!”, The Book Haven, last modified December 11, 2015, accessed January 5, 2021, https://bookhaven.stanford.edu/2015/12/happy-birthday-aleksandr-solzhenitsyn/.

[32] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperOne, 1952), 215-16.

[33] Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins; John 14:6.

[34] James 2:17-18.

[35] 2 Cor. 5:17.

[36] James 2:19.

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